Mack keeps on trucking

September 21, 1997


Staff Writer

The hard times Mack Trucks Inc. came through in the early 1990s seemed hardly a memory Saturday as hundreds of people streamed into the Maugans Avenue plant for a look at the truck making giant.

Visitors could take self-guided tours of the factory or see up to 200 trucks on display that included everything from 1950s-era Mack fire trucks to sleek new tractor-trailers.

The Bulldog Roundup was started four years ago to help increase the public's understanding of Mack Trucks, said plant manager Ross Rhoads.


Before that, the plant was a "big unknown" and the only time people heard about the plant was when there was a layoff or some other bad news, said Rhoads.

There's been plenty of bad news at the plant in recent years, and Rhoads said he is glad to be beyond it.

For years, Mack was the world's biggest heavy duty truck maker, controlling about 20 percent of the market share. But by 1989, that number dropped to 13 percent, and the company's workforce shrank from 17,000 workers to about 6,500. Between 1989 and 1993, the plant's losses came close to $1 billion.

Today the plant has rebounded after dozens of teams of union members and plant officials sat down and came up with ways to solve the factory's problems. In the last three years, the plant's profits have ranged between $30 and $40 million, said Rhoads.

"We saw the bad years and we didn't like what we saw. I think we all learned a lesson," said Rhoads.

The plant's workforce took a whole different look at how to run its operation, and an annual community event to toot its horn was part of the new thinking, said Rhoads.

Truck drivers working for a variety of company's from paving firms to independent trucking companies entered their rigs into ten different categories for the best-looking trucks. Trucks that rumble across highways and down dusty roads all week delivering loads of rock and asphalt were sitting spotless in the parking lot of Mack Trucks waiting to be judged on their cleanliness and condition Sunday.

Danny Dodson, an independent trucker who does a lot of work for F.O. Day paving and escavating company in Frederick, said he and a friend began cleaning his Eagle International 93 Series dump truck about 8:30 Friday night and didn't finish until 4 a.m. Saturday.

"I run a lot of blacktop and it's hard to keep blacktop off a truck, believe me," said Dodson, who lives in Funkstown.

There wasn't an age group left out of the celebration. There were carnival and pony rides for kids, and a side room on the plant was opened for a toy car sale. Dozens of toy car and trucks were available, including replicas of antique models.

Professional tractor-trailer drivers competed in a rodeo in the plant parking lot and members of the public were invited to drive a new Mack tractor-trailer in the opposite corner of the lot.

A Mack expert sat in the truck with the drivers, who paid $1 to take one lap around the course. Rhoads said anyone can drive one of the trucks if they know how to drive a stick-shift in a car.

"It rides comfortable. Other than being big, it was easy to steer," said Kathy Reeder of Baltimore, who stood in a steady line of visitors for a chance to ride one of the trucks.

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